Indianapolis Public Schools has been promoting new school models through
Autonomy and
Innovation
– but what do these terms really mean? You may have heard
that IPS is “privatizing education” or “testing models on our kids” but
that’s simply not the case; IPS is committed to finding the best ways
to meet the needs of our school communities
to support student achievement.

 

Why should we adjust
school models in the first place?

When the current administration began at IPS, many of our schools were
identified as chronically low-performing, meaning new supports were
necessary to create the best possible environment for our students.
Since each
of our schools has a unique personality and community, we knew a
“one-size fits all” model would not suit the individual needs of our
schools; that’s why we are employing a variety of engaging strategies to
increase student success.

 

Maybe you’ve heard that the district is trying to unload neighborhood schools by selling them to charters. What’s really happening is a gradual transition
toward more flexibility and options to strengthen all schools for all students. This charge came straight from our Board. In March of 2015, the IPS Board of School Commissioners unanimously approved
Core Commitments and Beliefs
that include moving toward an academic model where teachers and school
leaders control and are responsible for what happens in their schools.
In this framework, each school will make
instructional and operational decisions that are in the best interest
of the students that they serve. Each
school is filled with talented teachers that have various innovative
approaches to engage students. By empowering principals to make most or
all decisions at the school level, our central
services will fulfill our mission of supporting school needs. 

 

It is the responsibility of our administration to ensure schools are consistently providing the best possible educational opportunities for our students. When achievement gaps are identified, our experienced and knowledgeable leadership
team works to identify the most suitable solution for success. IPS employs a variety of models to support schools; our

Transformation Zone
schools receive targeted
coaching and other enhanced supports as they prepare to implement the
Opportunity Culture
staffing model, while schools in need of a new management structure
might be recommended for our Innovation Network through a restart.

 

We understand that some may question the notion of enlisting the support of an outside organization to improve student outcomes. But to us, it’s important to partner and create solutions
to bolster school achievement, rather than to
continue along with practices that have not been fruitful or have proven to have diminished return.
When a partner organization is identified for an Innovation Network
School, IPS leadership takes great care to ensure the match is a good
fit for the students,
staff, families and community of the school. Input is
vital to this process, so a series of surveys, meetings and other
opportunities to learn about the proposed partner and share thoughts are
presented to our school communities. If it’s not a good match, we’ll go back
to the drawing board.

 

So is this only happening to the “worst” schools in the district?
Definitely not. Many of our schools under the Autonomy and Innovation
umbrella are not there because of performance concerns; some models are
implemented to
allow successful schools greater control over their school
operational and instructional
models. Autonomous
schools empower strong principals to create an educational environment
tailored to their school community with increased flexibility in
management and curriculum decisions. Our

first cohort of Autonomous school principals

is training this spring on school budgeting and other
skills so they are prepared to lead our first Autonomous schools in the
fall. Continued discussions will aid school leadership teams in
adjusting their school designs to best fit the needs of students
and staff.

 

Some people might tell you all Innovation
Network Schools are neighborhood schools assigned to charter
organizations against their will
, but we have some school leadership teams creating their
own Innovation Network plans because they truly feel this
is the best path for their school communities. Our first two proposed
Innovation conversion schools,
Cold Spring School and
George H. Fisher School 93
, are expected to present Innovation
agreements to the Board of School Commissioners this spring. Both
schools are seeking greater flexibility in their scheduling, staffing
and other areas of management to capitalize on their successful
models. Cold Spring plans to add time for more STEM instruction and
clubs in their environmental magnet model, while George H. Fisher will
implement an expanded version of Project RESTORE, which has been very
popular among parents and students.

 

“We’re definitely reinventing ourselves, but we
have to,” said Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee. “We’ve made some
progress, but we have more work to do. I think the fundamental challenge
that Commissioners and I share is that we don’t
have a great school in every neighborhood. I think this is a plan to
help us create those options for every child.”

 

IPS is constantly seeking new ways to provide
exemplary service to our students, staff and families; whether it’s
partnering with an outside organization or building capacity from
within, the success of our students always comes first.
Your feedback is always welcomed and encouraged as this important work
continues. If you have suggestions, questions or concerns please send us
an email at
autonomyinIPS@myips.org; improving our students’ educational experiences is a community effort, and we’re proud to be on your team!